Playwright Ken Ludwig is famous for farce, fevered dialogue, and throwing his characters’ worlds off-kilter. Vienna Theatre Company’s endearing take on 2005’s Be My Baby — which Ludwig is alleged to have created in a fit of fatherly fawning — plays the kilt to the hilt! But Director Suzanne Maloney’s tender touch is thankfully less manic than most, lending a more musical tenor to the text, which is sure to tug at your heartstrings.
Meet two besotted orphans, two solitary seniors and a baby.
Set in 1963, the plot transports us by jet and cruise ship from a Scottish farmhouse to hippie-dippy San Francisco and back. Newlyweds Christy McCall (Danny Issa) and Gloria Nance (Casey Bauer) make a rash decision to adopt a relative’s baby but, for reasons I won’t spoil, can’t make the 6,000-mile trip to retrieve the newborn. They enlist their respective guardians, rascally Scotsman John Campbell (John Barclay Burns) and dotty Maud Kinch (Allison Shelby) to take the life-changing and nappy-changing journey together.
From the start, we can appreciate Maloney’s expert imprinting on the cast. She steers actors with the precision of a film director. Each scene change is masterfully staged and edited. Although her set design is sparse – using little but stick furniture and plain-frame time portals — somehow we “see” the countryside out the car window, airspace from a first-time flier’s perspective, a barrister’s banister, the fussy wallpaper of a grand hotel or the moonlight from a cruise ship deck. No doubt Lighting Designer Tom Epps has a talented hand in that.
Shelby anchors a delightful crew. As Maud, she initially defines dowdy … then doting grandmother … until she unfolds, blooming with a fresh, feminine perfume. Her voice – both speaking and singing (no, it’s not a musical, but there is music) – is entrancing. Never showboating nor languishing, Shelby hits every note of comedy and compassion as if the part was written for her. Playing opposite, miserly Burns, as the hard-nosed, priggish gent, is a font of humor. A native Scotsman, his accent is genuine and lyrical. Occasionally the pair’s banter descends into “Who’s On First?” patter, but just as a baby’s cry can be music to our ears, their bickering ultimately blends and soothes like a lullaby.
We watch Maud and John rejuvenate while feral Gloria and Christy fall onto rituals of “an old married couple.” Though Issa is inconsistently convincing as a Scotsman, he is 100% male, hypnotized by this newfangled gadget — television! Bauer, as a rich and restless bride, emerges as feminism’s torch-bearer. We watch the kids attempt to stomp on tradition, even as their elders stumble into a non-traditional arrangement. It’s the cross-pollination of generations that leaves us wondering: Who’s really in charge, caretaker or ward?
A baby-naming scene offers shades of Rumpelstiltskin, and infant “Li’l Miss Sunshine” (Sound Designer/Composer Jonathan Powers’ perfect plaything) turns everyone she touches to gold.
Also shining: Eric Storck (male ensemble) who morphs from irreverent priest, pedantic judge, dainty waiter and roller-skating dude with polished zest. Meg Hoover (female ensemble) proves versatile and ageless, pulling off a ditzy young waitress and rocking the vintage uniform of a craggy nurse.
I’d be remiss not mentioning another piece of the set: a trio of baby buggies suspended from the ceiling that possibly signify love’s centerpiece as fragility and hope. A child always brings folks together and offers a new chance at love. Prop Masters Rachel Comer and Meghann Mirabile did a brilliant job delivering so many prams in the vintage style of “nanny in the park.” And what says “classic play” better than ROTARY PHONE? Costume Designer Susan Devine also stuns, especially outfitting Bauer as a mod, lusty, independent British bird of the ‘60s. Those frocks!
Director Maloney states in her bio she is averse to slamming doors (a blessing, as I can take that sort of shtick only in metered doses). This play continually reminds us: Nothing’s the end of the world because when one door slams, another opens.
Vienna Theatre Company’s spirited Be My Baby goes down as smoothly as a Highlands single malt. The creative team, including Director Suzanne Maloney, Producer Laura Fargotstein and Stage Manager Mary Ann Hall, have delivered an honest-to-goodness bundle of joy!
Running Time: About two hours, with a 15-minute intermission.
Be My Baby plays through February 8, 2015 at Vienna Theatre Company – performing at the Vienna Community Center – 120 Cherry Street. SE, in Vienna VA. Ticket prices are $14 and are General Admission. Tickets are available to purchase in advance at The Vienna Community Center, or at the door. To reserve tickets email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information: visit the VTC website.
Meet Director Suzanne Maloney of Vienna Theatre Company’s ‘Be My Baby’-Opening January 23, 2015.
Ken Ludwig’s ‘Be My Baby’ Opens on January 23, 2015 at Vienna Theatre Company by Laura Fargotstein.